Virginia coach Mike London surprised few people today when he officially announced that incumbent starting quarterback Michael Rocco would be the man under center in Saturday's game against the Richmond Spiders.
Rocco showed promise when given the vote of confidence in late October 2011, winning critical games at Miami and at Florida State to propel Virginia to their first bowl game since 2007.
His comfort with the overall offensive playbook and his decision making has made Rocco the face of the program. The question is, for how long?
You see, despite the disappointing news for former Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims, this announcement is not written in stone.
Nothing is more dangerous for a starting quarterback than a capable backup. In fact, the perceived talent of a backup has hastened the removal of many starting quarterbacks at all levels of football.
Sure, Rocco has the confidence from the fans as long as he plays well and the Cavaliers keep winning.
If he were to struggle, though, doubts are going to seep in. People are going to remember all the hype about the highly rated quarterback prospect from Oscar Smith High and want to see if he has something to offer.
Even the great Matt Schaub, perhaps Virginia's greatest quarterback of all time, was benched in the second half of his opening game in 2002 to a true freshman in Marques Hagans. Schaub bounced back and actually earned ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors that season.
Would a performance against Richmond this weekend similar to the seven-turnover 2009 debacle against William & Mary have fans clamoring for a change?
On the other hand, Rocco has proven his strength in adverse conditions.
He has shown far more mental toughness than former quarterbacks like Marc Verica, and more touch on his passes than Jameel Sewell. His battle with David Watford last season made him a better player, not worse.
With a familiarity on offense and a chemistry with many returning offensive weapons, Rocco has all the reasons in the world to believe he can be successful in 2012—which means the slack given to him will be minimal.
With a secondary littered with inexperienced sophomores, Rocco will need to be able to carry the team and help Virginia outscore opponents if they want to reach a bowl game once again.
Heavy lies the crown of starting quarterback at Virginia. The breakthrough campaign last season gives Rocco something that the Cavaliers have not felt in awhile: pressure from expectations.
No one wants the program to take a step backwards. Knowing that Sims is just slowly waiting for his chance is something no one is likely to forget.
As a Virginia fan, the future appears so bright and yet so potentially tumultuous. Rocco holds the key to keeping this program on the path toward success.
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